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Misdiagnosis of ADHD and ADD in Children

adhd misdiagnosis todd elder school age childrenA study by Todd Elder of Michigan State University is revealing that the youngest kids in their grade level may be more likely to be diagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than the older kids of the same grade level. The study found 60% of the younger kids were more likely to be labeled as ADHD, which means almost one million U.S children could right now be misdiagnosed with the disorder.

How Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Symptoms are Diagnosed

There is no blood test or even a concrete physical exam which can determine if a child is ADHD/ADD. Doctors and psychologists will rely primarily on behavior analysis as seen by educators and caregivers. Most often the symptoms of ADHD/ADD appear between the ages of three and six years of age but the symptoms can vary for each child.

The Elder study suggests that a teacher's perception of a child's behavior could be misguided. A child's seemingly inappropriate behavior could be the result of intellectual and emotional immaturity in the younger students of a classroom when compared to the old kids in the same grade. Elder believes age needs to be addressed when evaluating a child and considering a diagnosis of ADHD/ADD.

Treating ADHD/ADD With Medication When Uncertain of Diagnosis

Most often, the drug Ritalin (methylphenidate), is prescribed for children who are thought to suffer from ADHD/ADD. This drug is a psychostimulant and the long term effects are not established. The same is said for the other ADHD/ADD medicinal treatments, especially the newer ones to market.

Side effects of stimulant medications include:

  • decreased appetite: can lead to growth development problems and weight loss
  • problems sleeping: As the medication is a stimulant, it can make sleeping difficult.
  • tics: Not as common are the development of "tics," uncontrollable, repetitive movements.
  • emotionlessness: Some children lose emotion and become "dull."

How to Avoid Misdiagnosing ADHD/ADD in Children

Since no single test will be able to determine if a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, caregivers and medical professionals have to take many considerations into the equation when possibly diagnosing a child with ADHD/ADD.

Certain criteria medical professionals will try to establish will be:

  • hearing loss: Could the child be suffering from a hearing problem?
  • vision problems: Does the child have good vision?
  • learning disabilities: Is it possible other disabilities exist?
  • anxiety or depression
  • life changes: Has the child recently undergone any traumatic experiences (eg. marriage, death, divorce, crime, medications etc.)?
  • peer comparison: Do the symptoms appear more intense that those of peers?
  • occurrence: Do the behaviors occur often and regardless of environment or only in certain settings?
Being certain a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD) is something no medical professional can claim. Since there is no definitive test to establish ADHD/ADD in children, misdiagnosis is possible. Many parents are uncertain if their child has this disorder and need to work with their health care professionals to establish behavioral patterns and understanding before attempting medical treatments.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.


The Vancouver Sun, " One in five hyperactive kids possible misdiagnosed " (accessed September 13, 2010), "One million kids in U.S. may be misdiagnosed with ADHD" (accessed September 13, 2010)

National Institute of Mental Health, "How is ADHD diagnosed?" (accessed September 13, 2010)

National Institute of Mental Health, "Medications" (accessed September 13, 2010)

Natural and Non-Addictive Treatments for ADHD and ADD:

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